Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): Symptoms and treatment
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus and follows an annual seasonal pattern. In Canada, a wave of increased activity usually occurs from the fall to the early spring.
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Symptoms of RSV
RSV usually causes a mild illness with cold-like symptoms. Symptoms often begin 2 to 8 days after exposure to RSV.
Symptoms may include:
- runny nose
- decrease in appetite and energy
In infants, symptoms may include:
- difficulty breathing
- decreased appetite or feeding
- decreased activity
By the age of 2, most children will have experienced an RSV infection. For infants and young children, RSV infection is a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia. Bronchiolitis is a common lung infection in infants and young children, which causes inflammation and congestion in the small airways of the lung
Complications of RSV
Although RSV usually causes mild illness, some people infected with RSV require hospitalization, and very rarely, admission to the intensive care unit.
RSV sometimes presents as a severe infection of the lower respiratory tract, which should be managed in the hospital.
Some people are at a higher risk for developing more severe illness from RSV, especially:
- older persons (65 years of age or older)
- individuals who are immunocompromised
People who are infected with RSV can get repeat infections, and individuals of any age can be infected. Reinfection with RSV is usually less severe in older children and adults. Reinfection in older adults can have serious health consequences.
If you become ill
If you or your child have symptoms of RSV, even if mild, stay home if possible and limit close contact with other people. You should do this until symptoms have resolved to avoid spreading illness to others. An example of limiting contact would be to only have one caregiver for your sick child if possible.
It's especially important to limit contact with people who are at risk of more severe RSV infection.
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Your health care provider may suspect RSV based on symptoms and the time of year the virus usually is circulating. People admitted to hospital may have a nose swab done to confirm the diagnosis.
Usually, RSV infections are mild and clear up on their own in 1 to 2 weeks.
If you or your child are infected, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You can use over-the-counter products such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fever. Speak to your health care provider if you're unable to use these medications.
If your child has symptoms, talk to their health care provider and give them medications as directed.
In severe cases, a person who is having trouble breathing or becomes dehydrated may need to be admitted to the hospital. They may need oxygen and care. If you or your child are having difficulty breathing or are dehydrated, seek immediate medical care.
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